Reflections on Toni Morrison’s A Mercy

Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, published in 2008, is a novel set in 17th century colonial America and is ostensibly about a time in which slavery was not inextricably linked to race. The story is told partially through the first person narration of Florens, a Black, sixteen year old, female slave who has been painfully, abruptly, unforgivably separated from her mother and sold into a household bereft of roots and struggling to survive.

amercy

Through Florens, Morrison explores the topics of  forced parental abandonment, the search for an identity in a society that tells a Black girl that she cannot create one, the experience of a first love that is powerful, intoxicating, and all-consuming, disillusionment with religion, and the search for sisterhood. I love Florens, I know Florens, I am Florens. Morrison achieved the wondrous feat of creating a convincing, poetic 17th century experience that rang true to a woman-girl reading it in 2013.

I was inspired to analyze and embody the experience of Florens through a poetic exploration of her gendered oppression. I wrote these short poems in reflection of Florens’ experiences in the novel, but they are deeply grounded in my personal experiences.

On Identity:

They say I/ They say I can/ They say I will/ They say I think/ They say I feel/ They move and act/They say it and it becomes/They think and it affects/ But this I has never been mine/ i only know you are/ You are not/ You move/ You work/ You birth/She is dumb/ She is lazy/ She is worthless/ She is worth much/ She is mine/ And now she is yours/ Use her/ Beat her/ Bruise her/ Break her into/ Herself/ Break her into what is useful/ Break her into this New World/We are brilliant they say for mining this natural resource/ How clever, how efficient, how economic/ But now i say i am/ i say i feel/ i feel myself, my skin, my thoughts they have shape/ And from thence i speak/ i feel and say that i am alive and thus have made myself alive

Blank. i came from nothing. i came from everything. i was stolen. And formed.  Spread wide open, my intestines, my lungs, my heart, my uterus, my stomach, my bowels. All removed. i was gutted and my parts weighed. Am i good or am i bad? Can i be saved? Can i be used? Can anything be salvaged from this savage? Yes. i am fitting. i will do just fine. Don’t you see this is what they were meant to do?  Look at those hands, those feet, those tits, that womb. They are created. For this. i am created.

On Love:

He lifts her, joyfully, and places her underneath him

The hunter and the hunted roll, harmlessly, together in the sheets

He says I love the way you say my name

He says I love your baby making frame

He says you complement the best parts of me

He says in my bed you can be free

He says you are a mirror to my supremacy

He says my rib in you shines luminescently

He says we are not equal but one in the same

He says I need you to be my frame

He strokes, gently, the wounds he made

The man enters the woman and, lovingly, conquers

On Religion:

In his name they came and brought with them blisters and sores

In his name they saved my soul and shackled my feet

In his name I was made whole and torn apart

In his name fire and guns and a sadness

In his name we are ravished

In his name we die

In his name

Amen

On Sisterhood:

within us there is a power

deep and bottomless

we stand trodden upon

but with hands

out stretched

ready to

grasp

On Abandonment:

Our love was not perfect but it was beautiful and innocent enslaved but free we were free in love

Oh a minha mae                                     i might have known you                              we might have                                            loved                                       as mothers

and daughters                          love                 but i am given                                      away

like                  an unwanted                     pair of shoes                                              left to walk       on my own               with an owner of my body                                              but not my heart                     you had my heart                    a minha mae                you had my      heart               and gave it away                        punched holes in it                              you bled me                       there                                                                     are      gaps                                          openings                                  breaks

they must be filled they must be filled they must be filled they must be filled they must be filled

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